I stay on the run/Let me out/Let me be gone – “Wanderlust King” by Gogol Bordello
In January, the restlessness crept into my soul like the tide rolling onto the shore. Once in, there was no turning back and I knew it.
I was just done. I’d had enough of the unending, bitterly cold Midwest winter and the questions about life and the future I couldn’t face or couldn’t answer. I waited for some sort of change, but the change alluded me.
The restlessness took root and I wondered if this time it would never leave me.
I searched for an escape to quash the unsettlement. Where could I go to get away?
Running away somewhere in the world has been my remedy, my lifeline. Traveling, the unease is made easy and the unsettlement settled. Back home afterwards all seems quiet and more like right with my world – enough that I think it might never come back. Who am I kidding? It always comes back.
In my early 20s, I was fortunate to travel a bit in Europe. I was living in London for school and loving it. In England I was a hop, skip and a jump from so many countries and cities I’d only seen on a globe or studied in world history class. Now was my chance to see them for myself and I leapt at the opportunity! I’d make the most out of my four-day weekends with visits to Paris, Scotland, Wales, Switzerland, Ireland and later, 14 days through the continent by train.
My heart hummed with the excitement of discovering all these places and that, for the most part, I traveled and figured things out all on my own. I treasured that independence.
It was after I returned to the States, after my husband John and I got married following more than two years of travel back and forth to England from America that I first became aware of the restlessness. In the subsequent summers, I’d book three or four day camping trips, quick trips to Midwestern destinations like Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. I wanted to show John this country he agreed to call home and it was reassuring to have a plan to get away in June, July and August.
In my 30s now that time of freedom I lived to the fullest potential in my 20s seems so long ago. Worse, I’d seen some of the world but not enough of it and the world felt like it had been shut away from me. I’m held prisoner by both time and resources.
So I say yes when I can.
I said yes to go to Dallas with friends Crystal and Adam in early February. On the day of departure, a furious winter wind off the lake whipped up a frenzy of fat snowflakes. I dragged my suitcase through an inch of white already covering the ground as I trudged to the train. By contrast, the Texas sun was a warm welcome with its rejuvenating rays.
I booked a flight to New York City on the pretense of surprising my friend Alison for her son’s birthday at the end of February.
I dreamed about Mexico and the Riviera Maya. I wanted to see some Mayan ruins, maybe even sit on the beach. I’d never been to Mexico, so why not now?
But Mexico was not meant to be this time. Rather, I booked a trip to Milan, Italy by way of New York City. All told, John (who would be taking the trip with me) and I would be gone for seven days and in Milan for not quite five full days. It seemed ridiculous and extravagant, but wonderfully and awesomely so.
Of course, leading up to the trip, I fretted that it was too far for such little time. In the meticulous amount of research I do before any trip, I tempered my expectations of what I should plan or what we could see and do. Better to be ignorant of what I might be missing out on and silence the cries of “if only we had more time, we could have seen…”
This wouldn’t be my first time in Milan. During that 14-day rail journey through Europe all those years ago, Milan had been the last Italian city I visited before crossing into Switzerland. I spent a little over a day and a night in the city – not nearly enough time to get to know a place, its people and its rhythm. My original assessment of the city said that compared to Venice, Florence and Rome, Milan felt too modern. While I marveled at the Duomo illuminated against the night sky, I didn’t readily praise much else. The fact that it was cold and a little snowy in Milan after coming from Rome which had been in the 70s probably didn’t help. I was also coming to the end of my train excursion then and my existence was ruled by train timetables, train stations, a Kelty backpack and advice from my Let’s Go! guide.
That train trek was meant to give me a taste of the countries I passed through so fleetingly. I always hoped to come back someday and re-visit those places. This trip to Milan gave me the chance to do exactly that.
This second time around, I did it right. In those not quite five full days, we made the most of our time. First, there was the gelato – a religion in and of itself in Italy.
In my daily humdrum life, I have been known to skip a meal or two. When I travel, it’s a different story entirely. I become possessed by what can only be described as a wild-eyed, hunger-crazed crazy lady. On one trip to Des Moines, I made John eat about four meals in one day because I had to visit old haunts from my college days.
Here in Milano, the wild-eyed, hunger-crazed crazy lady had to have as much artisanal gelato as she possibly could. On the day of arrival, we stopped for a scoop at a place in the neighborhood where we were staying. All other days, we ate it twice. Once day, three times. This is Italy. You make room and time for gelato. My wild-eyed, hunger-crazed crazy lady was over the moon.
For those five days, we tried to live like the Milanese. We stayed at a marvelous Airbnb owned by a delightful lady named Ele, rode buses, trams and the Metro, strode alongside canals in the Navigli District, logged at least 15,000 steps a day walking everywhere and getting lost here and there, day-tripped to Lake Como surrounded by the Alps and their peaks drenched in cloud cover and mist, stood breathless before Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” inside Santa Maria delle Grazie and soaked in the city views high atop the rooftop terraces of the Duomo.
We sipped Campari cocktails from the Camparino bar in the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery, drank coffee at Italian coffee bars and relished the happy hour culture of the “aperitivo” – drinks with food included starting around 6 or so in the evening.
And, yes, there were things I wish I could have done, like seeing an opera at La Scala, a football match and a maybe a museum or two. Or seeing the breathtaking Alps on a scenic train from Italy to Switzerland. Next time there will be time.
This time, I learned to appreciate Milan.
Sure it was a whirlwind trip, but I loved every moment of it. Best of all, the world is waiting for when the restlessness returns.